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Part two: Case studies

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

1. The agroforestry project (PAF) - Yatenga Province
2. PATECORE - Kongoussi

Burkina Faso, in the West African Sahel, has a serious problem of environmental degradation. However there are now many projects designed to conserve or rehabilitate land for agricultural production.

The Central Plateau of Burkina Faso has a high population density and suffered badly from the serious droughts of the 1970s and 1980s. Much of the land is eroded or degraded, and it is hard for the people who live there to produce sufficient food

We have chosen two projects from Burkina to illustrate some of the ways in which these serious problems are being tackled.

These are:

• the Agro-Forestry Project (PAF) based at Ouahigouya, Yatenga Province
• the PATECORE Project based at Kongoussi, Bam Province

While there are a number of similarities between the two projects - for example they both promote techniques based on stone, and try to involve local people as much as possible - there are also differences. Both are successful projects, yet in each case there are still problems to be overcome.

Burkina Faso

1. The agroforestry project (PAF) - Yatenga Province


The Agro-Forestry Project (PAF) of Yatenga Province, Burkina Faso, has built up the reputation of being one of the most successful soil and water conservation projects in sub-Saharan Africa. PAF promotes contour stone bunding and planting pits as its main conservation techniques. Stone bunding is based on a traditional technique for water harvesting. It is a method by which degraded land can be rehabilitated, and it leads to rapid improvements in crop yields. In its extension work, PAF collaborates with various Government services. Participation of the farmers in planning and implementation is a central objective of the programme. PAF has a remarkably successful training programme for field staff and villagers.

Name: Agroforestry Project (Projet Agro-forestier)

Contact: Mathieu Ouedraogo, Project Manager

Address: B.P. 200 Ouahigouya, Yatenga Province, Burkina Faso

Status: Non-Government Organisation

Sponsor/Donor: OXFAM (Oxford, UK)

Date of Start: 1979


Yatenga Province lies on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso, and has the double problem of high population density (70-100 people per square kilometre) and severely degraded land. Over 50% of the land is under cultivation these days and little or no following is practiced. Much of the remaining land is eroded and encrusted with a hard cap. It cannot be cropped without being improved. Overgrazing adds to the problem. Locally these barren expanses of land are known as zipeela.


To make matters worse, the rainfall has decreased significantly from the long-term average of 720 mm/annum to 440 mm within the last twenty years. Not only is the rainfall low, but it is also very unreliable.

Rainfall in Ouahigouya (Yatenga)

Early efforts to improve land and increase cereal production were generally unsuccessful. In the 1960s, under a large scale, internationally funded project called GERES, heavy machinery was used to construct earth bunds over entire catchments whether the land was used for agriculture or not. Work was carried out without any active participation by the local people.

The bunds were designed to drain rainfall runoff away from the fields to protect the soil from erosion. However, in subsequent years, when the rainfall diminished, this was the opposite of what the people wanted. They wanted the runoff on their fields to increase the moisture for their crops. The people didn't bother to maintain the GERES structures, and the bunds quickly lost their effectiveness.

GERES failed because the people were not adequately consulted about their needs.

Environmental problems increased, and as the population grew and rainfall decreased in the 1970s and 1980s, the people were faced with a simple choice to improve the land or to migrate.

In Summary:

• the population density is very high
• there are large expanses of barren land
• rainfall has diminished significantly over the last 20 years
• rainwater harvesting is required to grow crops well
• the people have to improve the land - or migrate



When the Agro-Forestry project (PAF) began in 1979, it was, as its name suggests, an agroforestry project. It aimed to improve tree planting using "micro-catchment" techniques which collect rainfall runoff and concentrate it around tree seedlings. However it quickly became apparent that the people were not interested in planting trees. Their most urgent need was food production. As Mathieu Ouedraogo, the Project Manager, says:

"If you have a thorn in your foot and a thorn in your backside, which do you take out first? The thorn in your backside! Then you can sit down and remove the thorn in your foot!"

The moral of the story is "First things first!" PAF was flexible enough to change direction according to people's priorities.

Traditionally simple stone lines had been used to help reduce erosion in fields, but this practice had largely been forgotten. However through discussions with the people, PAF saw this as the basis for improved food production. The technique was resurrected and improved by building the stone lines along the contour. Contour stone bunds became the focus of the project's attention from 1982.

A contour is an imaginary line which runs along land of equal height above sea level. By building stone lines along the contour, rainfall runoff is spread behind the stone line and allowed to seep into the soil. This improves the amount of moisture for crops.

Having developed an effective technique, PAF's main role has been to motivate villagers, and then to provide appropriate training for them.



1. Water Harvesting

PAF's main recommendation for the rehabilitation of degraded land, and improvement of existing cultivated land, is contour stone bunding. PAF took the rather crudely made traditional stone lines and improved the design by aligning the bunds along the contour and building them more carefully. The contour is laid out by the use of a simple water-tube level (see technical section).


The new design allows the rainfall runoff to spread evenly through the field. When runoff reaches a stone bund, it spreads out and slowly trickles through the small holes between the stones. In addition, organic matter from the catchment area, such as eroded soil, bits of dead plants and manure, is filtered out of the runoff. This rich sediment builds up behind the bunds and this improves the soil.

In combination with stone bunds, another traditional technique called zai was reintroduced. Zai is the name in the local Moore language for wide and deep planting holes. The zai collect and concentrate runoff water for improved plant growth. Placing manure or compost in each zai further improves crop yields. Once again a traditional technique has been proved to have real value.


The combination of contour stone bunding and zai leads to rapid benefits for farmers. Yields are improved in the first season after the land has been treated, and even in very dry years these techniques ensure some yield. For these reasons the techniques have proved very popular, and by the end of 1989 some 8,000 hectares in over 400 villages had been treated with stone bunds.


2. Village Land-Use Management

Recently PAF has broadened its outlook and has begun to promote the integrated approach of village land-use management. This approach gives the responsibility for conservation and development of village land to the villagers themselves. In certain villages special committees called "Village Land-Use Management Committees" have been set up. These committees look at the village land, decide what needs to be done to improve the whole area, and then coordinate the various conservation activities required, such as:

• Stone bunding on a large scale.
• Compost pits.
• Enclosure of sheep and goats in the homestead.
• Village fodder plots.
• Protection of communal land from overgrazing.
• Sowing Andropogon grass alongside stone bunds to form a vegetative barrier.
• Tree nurseries.
• Planting multi-purpose trees within the fields.



Although a number of the new techniques are not yet widely used, PAF is helping the people to see their potential by trying them out. From starting with two villages in 1989, by late 1990 the programme of village land-use management had spread to include eighteen villages.


1. Management of the Project

PAF has a small central office at Ouahigouya, with a total of 12 paid staff. Five of these staff are field extension agents, but PAF also works through the extension agents of three Government Services in Yatenga.

2. Organisation of the Conservation Work

The planning and coordination of conservation activities is carried out through village committees.

These committees are central to the programme. Before a village is allowed to join the programme, a committee must be set up. PAF's philosophy is that villages must develop their land resources themselves, through planning and coordination of self-help activities.

Conservation work is normally carried out by groups on a voluntary basis in fields belonging to members of the group. Food is provided for the group by the individual whose land is being treated. The type of group differs from village to village - some are more formal than others - but by and large PAF's experience has shown that groups work in Yatenga Province!

3. Incentives

PAF's philosophy is to use the minimum of incentives. The project believes that incentives should be used only where there is a specific need - a shortage of tools for example.

Incentives given to villagers to implement conservation measures include:

• pickaxes, shovels and wheelbarrows;
• donkey carts - for groups who buy their own donkeys;
• the loan of the project's lorry where the supply of stones is very limited and a large area has to be treated. In these instances the lorry is loaned free of charge to groups, but individuals are charged a small amount.

Additional help for the poorest farmers comes in the form of a food loan from the village committee, so that they can feed the group when work is done on their fields.

4. Participation

Full participation of the local people in all stages of planning and implementation is one of the strongest features of the project. Participation in the planning and organisation of activities takes place through the committees, and the work is carried out voluntarily by the people themselves.


PAF's training and extension system is the cornerstone of the programme's success.

PAF avoids the temptation to carry out its extension work independently, and joins hands with three Government services operating in the province. These are:

• the Regional Centre for Agropastoral Development (Centre Regional de Promotion Agropastoral - CRPA)
• the Provincial Office for the Environment (Direction Provinciale de l'Environnement Eaux et Forets - DPET)
• the Provincial Livestock Service (Service Provincial de l'Elevage - SPE)

PAF helps train the extension agents of these three services, who then collaborate in extension work.

Collaboration has led to more widespread achievements, and means that the activities should continue after the project comes to an end.

The project has developed a very effective training programme for farmers. PAF has trained thousands of farmers to use simple surveying equipment to lay out contours in the fields and to build improved bunds. Simple technology is within the reach of the villagers.

Training for villagers usually follows this sequence:

Stage 1: Extension agents from PAF and the other services (see above) meet villagers, and after a general discussion about conservation and development, a group of willing participants is selected for training.

Stage 2: Inter-village meetings and visits take place.

Stage 3: Training courses are held in the village.

The training courses consist of discussions about the need for conservation and land improvement. The main features of the courses are:

• using a model to demonstrate the effect of contour bunds (in the beginning, this was used a great deal, but is rarely needed now);

• training in the use of the water-tube level for surveying contours;

• construction of improved stone bunds.


By 1989 over 5000 people in more than 400 villages had been trained in this way, resulting in almost 8000 hectares of land being treated with stone bunds.


In recent years PAF has helped to train people from other regions of Burkina Faso, and also other countries. Visits to PAF by outsiders have become very common. During the first eight months of 1990 alone, fifteen groups from six countries visited the project.


The combination of contour stone bunds and zai can lead to significant yield increases - in the range of 40-60% - in the first season, and there is some evidence that yields may continue to increase for several seasons as fertile deposits are built up on the fields.

Most importantly, even in very dry years, treated fields yield some harvest. A survey in 1986 - a year of good rain showed that whereas plots treated with stone bunds and zai yielded an average of 972 kg/ha, plots left untreated yielded an average of only 612 kg/ha.

However, as PAF admits, there is not yet enough accurate yield data to compare different areas or different years.

There is some concern that the benefits of PAF's interventions have not reached the very poorest farmers who are unable to provide food for group labour. It is for this reason that PAF has made food grain available to village committees, who can loan it to poor families to feed groups working on their fields.


Degradation of Village Land

Improvements to private fields are not enough on their own, and each village must now take responsibility for halting degradation on all its land. Grazing areas pose a particular problem in this respect. The introduction of a village land-use management policy is intended to address this problem, and the first signs are that it is being accepted. However more motivation and training will be needed before the integrated approach can be fully effective.

Lack of Stone

The basic technique of stone bunding is excellent - as long as enough stone is available! But this is not always the case. PAF has recently bought a lorry to help transport stone long distances. The project also makes donkey carts available to those farmers who own or have access to donkeys. It is now faced with the dilemma of whether to buy more lorries or continue to promote the slower, but more appropriate, donkey transport.


The problem of what to do when the stone bunds become silted up - as they do after several seasons - is not yet satisfactorily answered. Where stone is plentiful, the bunds can be raised in height. But where stones are not available, one answer is to plant a grass (for example Andropogon guyanus) alongside the bund to act as a barrier hedge. However, it is difficult to grow these hedges thick enough to act effectively, and they take at least two seasons to develop well.



Not enough is known about the effect of the techniques on crop yields and the reliability of harvests. The figures available show significant yield increases when stone bunding and zai are used together, but the data are not always of an acceptable scientific standard. PAF realises this, and is in the process of improving its monitoring system.

The Poorest Farmers

Is the project effectively helping the poorest of the poor? The achievements in terms of land treated are very impressive, but the majority of the farmers in Yatenga have not yet bunded their fields. Why not? Is it just a question of time, or are there specific constraints, of labour for example? PAF is currently (1990) undergoing an evaluation, and this is one of the points which is being studied.


Projects cannot last forever! Is it possible that activities could continue without PAF's help in some regions? Perhaps both inputs and training could be handled by experienced village committees with assistance from the Government development organisations Should PAF be expanding, staying the same size or contracting?


1. PAF is an internationally known success story. This is because of its impressive achievements and use of appropriate techniques. However the special combination of factors which make PAF so successful is not found everywhere in sub-Saharan Africa. PAF's techniques are rather site-specific.

2. Participation of villagers in decision making and in the implementation of soil and water conservation measures is central to PAF's philosophy and to its success.

3. Training and extension are among PAF's greatest strengths. PAF has a well developed training scheme for villagers during which they are taught how to lay out and build the bunds.

4. Flexibility in allowing the programme to evolve and change is a feature of the project. Having started as an Agro-Forestry project, PAF achieved considerable success with stone bunding techniques, and is now moving towards village land-use management.

5. The main technique, contour stone bunds with zai or planting pits, is simple, relatively cheap to implement and based on traditional techniques.

6. The techniques are particularly popular because they give farmers a rapid increase in crop yields, and allow at least some harvest in very dry years.

7. PAF is a small NGO project which is able to have an important impact on soil and water conservation by acting together with both government agencies and other NGOs.


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